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St. Augustine's College, Canterbury.

From Mission Life, Vol. V (1874) (new series), pages 484-491.

Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of Melanesia, 2007


HOW many, we wonder, of those persons, who throughout the length and breadth of the land, go to church Sunday by Sunday, have ever heard of St. Augustine's College, Canterbury? Such a census, could it be taken, would, we fear, be a painful document. And yet, if this most useful institution were connected with the Wesleyans, or either of the more prominent Nonconformist bodies, we venture to say that there would hardly be a single meeting-house, however small or however remote, which would not make its yearly contribution towards its support.

We are induced to call attention to the College just now by the receipt of a printed letter,+ [Footnote: + Twenty-five Years at St. Augustine's. By Henry Bailey, D.D.] addressed by the Warden to his late students, who are now scattered throughout the world. The letter is circulated privately, and is not to be purchased; and we should perhaps have hesitated to notice it, had we not observed that other magazines have done so.

First, as to the history of the College. Its foundation dates from St. Peter's Day, 1848. But as the Warden remarks:--

"There is a previous period, of intense interest, which I may call [484/485] prehistoric, as being known to very few, during which a succession and combination of forces were at work, each with its own direction and character, and contributing to that resultant which became patent to all in the end.

"On the morrow of St. Peter's Day (1848) you might have seen moving about, as guardians of the place, a Corporation, of a day old, consisting of three persons. The day before, the statutes for their guidance had been given them, and the chapel consecrated as their holy house of daily service, by the Primate of all England, and Visitor of the College. But, among the crowd of distinguished Churchmen who gathered round the altar and the precincts of the new institution on that memorable day; there were present men who in their time had been labouring steadily and zealously for the much-desired end. Nearest in time were the members of the Provisional Committee (1845) with their hon. secretary and treasurers. Close behind these, and the immediate occasion of their being called into joint action, stood the munificent donor of the site, and chief founder, by that and other acts of generosity, of the new but no less true College (1844). His interest in the scheme, or, more truly, his very knowledge of the site and its former disgraceful condition, sprang from the perusal in a Church paper of a descriptive letter, written by a London Surgeon,* [Footnote: * The late Robert Brett.] during a few days' holiday at Ramsgate (1844), who was himself present on the auspicious day of consecration. By [485/486] force of that remarkable letter the purchase was made, but the offering of the gift, and appropriation of it to the purposes of a Missionary College, were drawn into action by a magnetic power that had been some years in marvellous operation, in the person of one, full indeed of professional engagements, as an Assistant Master of Eton* [Footnote: * The Rev. Edwin Coleridge.] (1842), yet bent upon establishing, he knew not as yet where, a Missionary College for the Church of England. Yet once again, among the seven Bishops who assisted by their presence in launching the College on its future course was one, pre-eminently distinguished in other ways, but by us to be always gratefully commemorated as having already (1841) organised a grand scheme for the increase of the first order of the ministry in foreign parts, to which this for the increase of the second and third orders was the natural and necessary sequel. The mind of Bishop Blomfield of London was large enough, and his foresight keen enough, to have conceived this great design without any external aid. But there is reason to think that he, in turn, was partly led into the train of thought, which with him soon became action, by the representations of a brother prelate, who was himself learning practical lessons on the subject by painful experience and struggles in an overwhelming diocese. However this may have been, most certain it is that the willing powers of the Eton master received their first impulse, and their continual encouragement, from the same far distant source--a man who, by the mighty force of his character, could wield the lever of effectual influence from the very antipodes, the first Bishop of Australia (1836). Can we, think you, carry the course of causation further back in a direct line? Yes, indeed; for the Bishop of Australia was chosen and placed in his office by one who gave him the watchword for his execution of it, with full appreciation of him, as of a man, as indeed he was, of like character with his own--Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington."

The Duke of Wellington's share in this work was his selection, in 1829, of Bishop Broughton for the very arduous position of Archdeacon of Australia, that continent being supposed, by the fiction which obtained in those days, to be under the care of the Bishop of Calcutta. But the providential instrument of fixing the College at Canterbury, and its site on the ruins of a former abbey, was Robert Brett, a well-known and saintly man, but recently taken to his rest. He wrote, in 1843, the following letter to the English Churchman newspaper:--

"Sir,--On a bright September morning two pilgrims set forward on their way towards the ancient and holy city of Canterbury, which they reached in time for the matin service in that glorious fane. [486/487] Ushered into the sacred choir by the venerable verger, their spirits were solemnised and refreshed by the holy worship, and prepared to contemplate with awe and veneration that stupendous monument of the piety and skill of the saints of old. Enraptured with the wondrous spectacle, but mourning over the desolation of the chapter house and cloister, which are now a receptacle for blocks of wood, they turned their steps towards St. Martin's, that sacred spot so full of holy interest, as the seed-plot of that rich harvest which filled England with her gorgeous temples.

"Proceeding from thence to the ruins of St. Augustine's Abbey, they were disgusted and horrified at the scene of sordid, revolting profanity and desecration which presented itself. These hallowed and time-honoured ruins are now converted into a brewery, pothouse, and billiard room. These walls, which once resounded with the solemn chant and swelling anthem, now re-echo the wild, fiendish revelries of the bacchanalian, or the maddening curses of the gamester. Wearied and heart-stricken they turned from the sickening spectacle, not however without a feeling of satisfaction on learning that God's righteous retribution was about to bring the property to the hammer.

"May His grace incline the hearts of His servants in the Cathedral of Canterbury, to rescue this inheritance of their forefathers from the hands of the heathen desolater, or dispose some pious and wealthy Catholic to purchase and restore the sacred edifice.

"Sep. 13, 1843."

The Warden adds that Mr. Brett told him that whilst he was surveying the scene before him, he made some inquiries of a very old man, who was struck with his interest in the place, and who said--"The place is going to be sold; it's always changing hands, for God Almighty don't seem to prosper anybody who has it." Mr. Brett added: "I was staying at Ramsgate at the time for a few days' holiday and rest; and I well remember how my heart burned within me at the sight of St. Augustine's, and I involuntarily unburdened it in the glowing words of Isaiah lxii. It formed the burden of my prayers, and I resolved to make an effort to move the hearts of the wealthy to rescue the hallowed spot. It was truly 'bread cast upon the waters,' to be found 'after many days.' The results which followed taught me never to lose an opportunity, however slight, of doing whatever came in one's way for the cause of Christ and His Church, especially during a holiday.

"I had the privilege of co-operating with my dear friend Rev. Edward Coleridge in raising money for the furtherance of his great object. And I can never cease to thank God for permitting me to have been a partaker in such a work."

[488] At this time the Bishop of Australia made most earnest demands for men, and urged above all things the establishment of a Colonial College in England. And soon afterwards the munificent Churchman, Mr. Beresford Hope, M.P., secured for the Church the desecrated ruins. The history of his share in the work was told by himself on the occasion of the consecration of the chapel, in the following words:--

"My own interest in St. Augustine's was first excited by a letter which I. saw in a newspaper, stating that the ruins were soon going to be sold; and since I acted upon that letter, I have learnt who was the writer of it. It was a surgeon in the suburbs of London; one who, though labouring assiduously in his own profession, yet found time to turn public attention towards that ancient institution: a gentleman named Brett, of Stoke Newington.

"Being much struck with his letter, which I read while preparing for my first visit to Canterbury to my excellent friend the Dean (Lyall), I took occasion from that visit to inspect the ruins of St. Augustine's. My very Rev. friend brought me to the gateway, and showed me the exterior of it, assuring me that there was nothing worth seeing inside. What was inside was most grievously desecrated. Within those sacred walls was a brewhouse, a drinking house, a great room over the gateway turned into a beer-vat, and that very hall in which you are now assembled was a concert room, and had frequently, I believe, been the scene of great depravity. However, I became the purchaser of the ruins; not indeed for myself, for I had from the first resolved not to retain them in my possession, but to restore them to the Church, and to purposes akin to those for which they were founded.

"But I had not determined exactly in what way to do so. My friend the Rev. E. Coleridge had for some time been maturing his noble scheme of a Missionary College. Accordingly, a few days after he knew that I had become the purchaser, I received a letter from Mr. Coleridge asking me, with his usual activity in begging, whether I meant to give the site and building for a Missionary College. I answered fairly that I could not tell. I held out hopes, but could not say positively whether the site was adapted, or whether a Missionary College was the best destination for it. A few months' reflection, however, convinced me that it was so.

"Thenceforward the two undertakings became united, and then the vague scheme of devoting the site to the needs of this Missionary College, became the grand one of restoring the old house of St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. Augustine to the same Missionary objects for which it was at first founded."

Mr. Butterfield entered con amore on the work of building, and the [488/489] result of his judgment and taste is before the world. Money came in from all sides, and the Kalendar of Benefactors is a list of the most distinguished Churchmen of the century. Such a scheme did not escape carping criticism. The very name of St. Augustine was seriously objected to! but firmness and wisdom prevailed, and the College became a Foundation by Royal Charter, "the Warden, Sub-Warden, and Fellows" being independent of all committees, councils, and such like bodies, who do so much of the work of restriction and hindrance in these days, and bound only by their statutes, the principles of which are, "The Prayer Book, the whole Prayer Book, and nothing but the Prayer Book."

The first Warden was Bishop Coleridge, who had been the first Bishop of Barbados; but he died after a little more than a year of residence, and was succeeded by the present Warden. The first students came within the walls of the College in Nov. 1948 for a short time, and in January 1849 work began in earnest. Since that time more than 200 men have been sent forth into the Mission field; neither must we omit, as one of the most useful works of the College, the sifting process to which probationers are subjected, and by which many who have fancied themselves called to be Missionaries have been saved from subsequent failure, by being mercifully shown their unfitness.

The most interesting feature in the volume before us is the varied history of the students before entering college, and the divers ways in which, as related by themselves, they have been attracted to the Missionary work. Well may the Warden write:--

"Your letters, my dear and attached friends, lie at this moment open before me; and I do not hesitate to say, that the volume in which they are bound up together is among the most precious books in my possession, too sacred, at this time, for almost any eye but my own, and too private, even for future times, to be otherwise placed than in a 'lock-up case.' They are all exactly on the model I desired simple and unaffected, cordial and truthful, loyal and yet free. I cannot tell you how much I have been affected by reading them; but on that subject I will not further dwell."

In these we notice how frequently the younger clergy have influenced young men, and won them to the work of the Church. Thus one writes:--

"Because I was useful at home I got scarcely any education, and at the age of twelve was even taken from Sunday-school. Those who had the charge of me were not poor, but careless and avaricious. They wished me to be a farmer. Our curate protested in vain. At the age of sixteen, however, I began educating myself in the spare moments, and when I was twenty-one I resolved to leave my uncles, [489/490] though one of them promised, if I would stay with him, to make me his heir. I went to school again for a year in the hope of entering the Excise. I failed. My uncles then turned me out, and I went home, and soon was engaged in a large store as clerk and manager. During this period I had been a Sunday-school teacher in a village four miles off. I remained a while, hoping still for some higher employment, and renewed my acquaintance with some distant relatives whom I had not seen since I was a boy. There I heard that their eldest son was a Missionary in New Zealand. And they read me his letters, and showed photographs of the natives. I looked forward, through influential friends, to other employment, but I could not shake off the thought of being a Missionary. Time went on; I became miserable; and at length gave myself to solemn prayer for God's guidance in the future. I returned to resume my work; but on my way, reaching the lane which led to the curate's home, I said to myself I would go at once and tell him what thoughts were uppermost in my mind, and gave me no rest: I wished to be a Missionary. He received me very kindly, and after a conference about ways and means, he promised to write for me to St. Augustine's, to give me classical instruction gratis for a year, and afterwards, he said, I should go to college. Now, for the first time in my life, I felt content, having the object which I had long hoped for in view."


"I commenced reading with the curate of the parish, who had kindly offered to prepare me for matriculation at St. Augustine's.

"Since his appointment to the curacy, he had endeavoured to excite and sustain an interest in Mission work among the parishioners by holding quarterly Missionary meetings, at which a deputation, or one or two of the neighbouring clergy attended, and gave a descriptive account of Mission work in some one portion of the Mission field. In this manner, in the course of two or three years, I had acquired a very good general knowledge of Church Missions throughout the world. At one of these meetings the Secretary of the Local Missionary Studentship Association gave a description of St. Augustine's College, reading, if I remember rightly, the College Tracts on Sunday and on Week Day. It was soon after this that the curate, knowing the interest I took in Mission work, offered to prepare me. I refused at the time, thinking myself unfit to enter on so great and holy a work, but on subsequent thought, and with the advice of parents and friends, I consented."

Another writes:--

"One morning going to work I saw the vicar approaching. The thought flashed across my mind, 'Why not ask him about St. Augustine's? He will surely know.' With a heart beating with excitement, [490/491] I burst out with 'Sir, can you tell me anything about St. Augustine's College?' Need I say what his answer was; or how he inquired in his grave, kindly manner my motives in asking? Through him I obtained an interview with the Warden, who gave me much good advice as to how I was to use the year I had yet to wait before I could hope to enter the College."

Another writes:--

"To the kindness of a clergyman in a neighbouring parish I was indebted for my first instructions in Latin and Greek, to which he afterwards added lessons in French and German. I was also to some extent familiarised with the existence and object of St. Augustine's by means of the Occasional Papers, of which another clergyman, then and ever since a most kind friend, frequently sent us copies."

Another, whose career has been no common one, writes:--

"But the coming difficulties were great. In my ardour I had not considered enough the need of education for such a high office. My kind pastor, however, at once commenced giving me lessons in Greek, and after a little while I entered the City of London College (which was attended at that time by 600 students, all of whom were engaged in business pursuits during the day, and devoted their evenings to study); and there I attended the Latin, Greek, and Divinity Lectures three evenings weekly. My life now was not an idle one; I rose every morning at 5.20 A.M., had two miles to walk to catch an early city train, arrived at my office at 7 A.M., where I remained till 4 P.M., then posted off to the City of London College, corrected or finished my exercises, attended lectures from 7 to 9.30 P.M., then had to run to catch the train, to walk my two miles in the dark, leaving no great margin of time before the next day's work commenced."

Not less important are the letters in which old Augustinians have detailed their subsequent work, with its difficulties, failures, and successes; but for these we have no space. The Warden has given a valuable permanent record of the first twenty-five years of this noble institution. At the end of another quarter of a century his successor will be able to ask,--indeed, the question may now be put with very small limitations--

"Quis jam locus . . . .
Quæ regio in terris, vestri non plena laboris?"

The more St. Augustine's is known, the more it will be loved and honoured; and certainly none of those who have contributed to the associations which aid in the support of students, will ever think their money has been misspent, when so good an account can be rendered as these pages supply.

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